Tuesday, February 12, 2013


THREE GRAVES FULL opens with the observation: "There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard. Jason Getty had grown accustomed to the strangling night terrors, the randomly prickly palms, the bright, aching surges of adrenaline at the sight of Mrs. Truesdell's dog trotting across the lawn with some unidentifiable thing clamped in its jaws." I defy you to put down the book after reading that.

Despite the rather disturbing knowledge the reader has about Jason at the beginning of the book, he is a sympathetic and relatable character, so it is horrifying when Jason's landscapers dig up a body - but not the one he buried. The police arrive and dig up a second body - still not Jason's handiwork. The tension builds as it appears more and more likely that the police investigation into the previous owner's buried bodies will expose Jason's secret. Meanwhile, the former owner of Jason's house and the fiancee of one of the bodies in the yard are about to intersect with Jason's hidden past.

Mason explores the limits of human control, of rage and other powerful emotions. "Evolution had brought us out of the trees, then culture had neutered the beast, but even a eunuch can get angry." What would any of us do if pushed to extremes? Is there any way to even guess? And once pushed past our own limitations, how far will we go? "It never occurred to him what sort of man might split out of his own brittle composure if it ever lost his glue." What does it take to turn one's understanding of oneself upside-down?

Leah, the fiancee of one of the bodies found in the yard, has an equally gripping story, of loss in the face of uncertainty. Mason exposes the raw emotions of Leah's tragedy. "The milestones of time accumulated - a week, and the crying was still rampant, as were the kind prompts not to lose hope; a month, and the phone rang much less, but still occasionally with callers who didn't realize that he was gone; a year, and a picture of Reid went into the casket with Sheila and rested in a marked grave in a churchyard."

Mason captures the torture and grief of never knowing beautifully.

Tim Bayard and Lyle Ford, the investigating officers, are refreshingly complex. At the same time I rooted for Jason, for his secret to remain hidden, I also rooted for Bayard and Ford, whose banter lent comic relief to their scenes. "Lyle watched him slip into distraction, entertained. He leaned in to stage-whisper, "Do you really get paid for that?" "Huh?" "All these years, do they really fork out cash for you to look serious and make thinking noises?" "You know, I'm going to make sure I'm on your next review panel," Bayard said." Despite their funny moments, they are not cardboard cutouts of country bumpkin law enforcement, nor are they played strictly for laughs. They do very thorough police work, and despite the improbability of Jason having involvement in murders committed before he lived in the house, something about him sets off Bayard's radar. The character I loved the most, though, is none of these: it is Tessa the sometimes-K9 dog who steals every scene she's in.

It was inevitable that one character would be less compelling. Despite repeated assertions about his motives, Boyd remains flat to me. But with such a rich cast of characters, I hardly noticed.

Publicity compares THREE GRAVES FULL to the films of the Coen brothers, and I concur. Darkly funny, yet weighty. A taut suspense novel with a twisting mystery and a wicked grin.

Last year, GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn was the knocked-out-of-the-park more-than-a-mystery novel for me, the one I recommended to everyone. It's only February, but I'm comfortable saying that THREE GRAVES FULL takes on that role for 2013.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher.

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